The Ministry for Poverty Eradication and Social Welfare in Namibia has floated the possibility of introducing basic income grants for those between 19 and 59, according to Namibian national daily paper New Era.
The Ministry was set up in early 2015, following the landslide election of President Hage Geingob. It is headed by former Bishop Zephania Kameeta, who has a history of universal basic income (UBI) advocacy. A paper entitled Blue Print on Wealth Distribution and Poverty Eradication, put out by the Ministry in May 2016, stated that “measures should provide people with tools that build resilience and self sufficiency to break the cycle of poverty. Social safety nets are one of such measures that can help graduate people out of poverty to sustainable livelihoods.”
Reporting on an initiative by the Ministry to discuss implementation of the poverty eradication plan, New Era titled their article “Basic Income Grant Under Consideration”, and ended it with the sentence, “The ministry will also look into introducing a basic income grant for people between the ages of 19 and 59, who do not qualify for the existing grants yet do not have means to sustain themselves.” At the time of going to press, no external confirmation could be found of New Era’s statement on basic income grants; however, although the paper is technically owned by the New Era Publication Corporation, it is in fact openly run by the Namibian state and as such may have more detail on government policies than other national newspapers.
Namibia has a population of approximately two million people, and for some time was part of South Africa, only gaining independence in 1990. Geingob is the third President of an independent Namibia.
This week, I had the opportunity to be a guest on New York University’s Students for Criminal Justice Reform podcast. I spoke with Thurston Powers about the positive effects a basic income may have on American society.
One overlooked potential benefit is the effect of basic income on crime rates. I noted that a basic income could create more stable households and increase the likelihood of parents spending time with their children. Unstable and low-income households are linked with creating long-term issues for children that grow up in these situations.
Those that critically point out single mothers work slightly less under a basic income do not understand this is probably a good thing. Considering it is single mothers in the data that show reduced work hours, it is likely they are spending their extra time raising their child. In the long-run, raising a well-adjusted adult will produce social and economic dividends.
In fact, research shows that basic income experiments have resulted in increased social cohesion. Studies have shown increased school attendance after the introduction of a basic income-type grant. In Namibia, there was about a 40 percent drop in crime in areas where the basic income was introduced.
While it is highly probable the basic income would improve some of the factors that lead to crime, I said in the podcast there is virtually no chance a basic income could increase crime. Frankly, the conservative narrative surrounding welfare is just not true.
The problem is not that welfare recipients become lazy, it is that the structure of welfare can discourage work. This is because welfare benefits diminish sharply as low-income individuals improve their wages — which is precisely why a basic income is more effective.
I also noted that most research demonstrates that overall people will not work less, and in some cases may work more if it benefits them, under a basic income. For libertarians that are interested in creating an effective solution to deal with the upcoming wave of automation, a basic income is the most efficient answer.
Listen to the full podcast below:
The London-based Apolitical website’s article on basic income (BI) opens with “Money for nothing – it sounds like a utopia” and then looks at some examples of BI concepts that have already been applied around the world.
This phrase, “money for nothing” represents a commonly held bias that, when there is no commodity returned for the money, whether that commodity is a thing or someone’s labour, then there is no tangible value returned for the monies. This bias is widely held and promoted by many adherents of modern-day economic theories – a bias which too often dismisses, or simply ignores, the numerous personal and societal benefits that others have evaluated and documented as attributable to BI models.
The article does a fairly good job of maintaining its organizational claim of being “apolitical” in that it does not overtly favour any particular side in the issue. Yet that does not mean it has escaped the narrow-minded focus that so many politicians, their handlers, and media commentators alike have grudgingly adopted regarding the BI. In fact, the Apolitical article offers a wonderful example of the very limited ways in which the BI idea is being appraised, namely as simply a response to job automation and/or carrot-and-stick welfare programmes.
Apolitical does, occasionally make mention of the fundamental roots of a BI, roots that run far deeper than simply jobs and poverty. Yet to emphasize that a BI is simply about addressing poverty or unemployment is to overlook the very foundation of a BI – namely that such a policy is meant to be an expansion upon, and commitment to, something that should never be commodified, namely personal freedom. All other aspects of a BI flow from this fundamental premise. That is, if a nation and its people are sincerely committed to the idea of freedom itself.
The five points made by Apolitical in the above article are all legitimate and commonly discussed around the world. Yet the shallowness of these points is intricately tied to the same old penny-pinching issues that surround welfare, as well as the easy access to cheap human labour that employers have enjoyed for far too long.
Yes, a BI can help eliminate the stigma and overbearing bureaucracy associated with welfare programmes. It would also force employers to be truly competitive regarding employee wages and hours. However, the most valuable asset each and every person possesses is our time in this life. We should be the stewards of that time – not employers and not bureaucrats. It is the personal freedom provided by a BI that is truly important to everyone, not just the workforce and welfare recipients.
A BI would allow individuals to tend to family and personal concerns without the anxiety of how to survive without a “job” income during these times of personal need. There may be no greater freedom than to have the time and economic stability necessary to order our lives as we, ourselves, see fit, rather than as employers demand, as is becoming far too common these days. Politicians are slowly coming to accept that individuals are the best stewards of their monies, not bean-counting governments who tend to value the beans over the people the beans are intended for.
Let us examine each of Apolitical’s five points to see how personal freedom is addressed here.
1. Governments are not thinking the same as tech optimists
Apolitical is right about this and politicians are notoriously slow to respond to social changes of any kind, never mind one of this magnitude. Yes, the tech optimists foresee an evolutionary step in human time management when robotics and automation take over the monotony and the drudgery of the repetitive and injury-prone tasks found in so many labor-intensive “jobs”. This creates a new workforce that is far more reliable (never taking time off), disposable (without regrets or complaints) and economically efficient than human beings.
From the technologist’s viewpoint, a BI becomes an essential aspect of employment and personal advancement because of the accelerating pace of technological advancement. Every new innovation requires that the humans who will be utilizing those innovations undergo time-consuming training and up-skilling. These advances can even lead to whole new careers for which a BI would be the springboard to pursue those educational and up-skilling goals. To tech experts, this is not “money for nothing” but instead an investment in the future of the nation, its economic infrastructure, its people and its economy.
But there is also a very real need to understand how a BI frees workers – especially those who only have labour, rather than any marketable skills or training, to sell – from the spectre of destitution and homelessness if they are unable to find work, or simply to feed and/or shelter themselves on the meager, subsistence wages offered today to unskilled labourers.
Of course, time management in this case refers only to the workplace. What is overlooked here is the personal freedom that a BI introduces into the optimist’s time management scheme. A BI would provide an individual with the economic freedom to then choose to acquire more skills or education, or to spend more time with family, or to take a much-needed break. This freedom is of great value to the individual, as well as their future prospects, but has little or no meaning to many economists.
Apolitical, however, does make a very good point about welfare reform. It is true that eradicating the expensive and needlessly patronizing welfare bureaucracies would entail huge cash savings for governments at national, provincial/state and municipal levels everywhere – savings that could be utilized far more efficiently and effectively when incorporated into a BI.
2. People already get money for nothing
Actually people get money from their government because they are deemed, by their government, to be in need and it is a government’s principal responsibility to succor to its citizens in times of need. While Apolitical talks about how “money for nothing already exists in the state pension” system, it ignores a number of other social safety net programmes such as health care, welfare, student loans, disability, make-work projects, employee subsidies, food banks, and shelters, to name a just a few of the most common.
Social safety net programmes always incur infrastructure and staffing costs associated with the policing and distribution of these monies. A BI removes the stigma associated with so many of these programmes via its universality but it cannot ignore the special needs associated with people such as the disabled, seniors, and the unemployed. Their special circumstances can easily entail more than simply a “free money” infusion involving things such as in home support, accessibility of public buildings, mobility aids, wheelchair-friendly streets and curbs, and emotional and mental supports to deal with chronic and acute complications, to name just a few.
Apolitical also mentions the Alaska Fund, a decades old statewide “free money” programme that, today, is surrounded by much controversy, with some demanding the money be used, instead, to fund state social programmes while others are happy for the money to be put directly into the hands of the people themselves.
This is a very good example of how the assets of a community – its resources, both natural and human – are the heart and soul of its economy. However, the Alaska Fund’s greatest feature is that it offers good, sound support for the premise that some of the wealth flowing from a community’s resources should be returned to the people that comprise the community.
The debate here is not whether “free money” should be distributed to the citizenry, but rather how much and in what manner.
3. The schemes in the developing world aren’t really analogous
Apolitical is absolutely right to point out that the drastically modified BI programmes implemented in Namibia, India, and Brazil cannot be directly applied in more developed areas. These programmes are largely a response to severe destitution and poverty in those countries, while here in North America the BI is framed as a response to automation and welfare inequities.
However, Apolitical does recognize that there is a self-empowerment and entrepreneurial spirit that blossoms within the poorest individuals in the above-mentioned countries once they have been freed to make their own choices of how best to utilize their time and abilities to address their own needs and interests.
These observations correlate well with Canada’s own Dauphin Manitoba Mincome BI programme, which ran for five years. Mincome was well monitored and documented at a variety of levels and interests. Documentation that highlighted the many personal advantages derived from a BI. These advantages included the reduction of both individual and family stress levels, greater ability to cope with family issues and, most importantly, noticeable improvements in children’s health and growth due to better nutrition which lead to higher learning evaluations. While some people did indeed leave the workforce, they did so to upgrade their education and skills, to attend to personal and family issues, or simply to take a much needed break.
All of these findings amount to huge social and personal savings that invariably strengthen and improve communities, yet, once again, they are not benefits that economists are able to quantify or put a monetary value on and are too often deemed to be without value.
4. It actually all comes down to incentives
Here Apolitical addresses the commonly held fear that a BI would act as a disincentive to “working,” as if “paid employment” should be every person’s preoccupation rather than the management of their lives. However, Apolitical cites Hugh Segal, a Canadian senator who has been a long-time advocate for BI programmes and who laments the very real disincentives to improving one’s life that have been built into Canada’s social programmes. This is why Senator Segal has long applauded the personal empowerment that a BI could provide to all Canadians.
It is here that Apolitical acknowledges Sam Altman of Y Combinator – a US private investment firm – who sees a BI as the seed money necessary to provide the personal freedom allowing individuals to be economically empowered to address the rapidly changing education and training demands of a technologically driven economy. Of course, Altman seems far more interested in employing a BI to address the demands of technology and its impact upon production and the workforce than in actually addressing personal freedom per se.
Apolitical is absolutely right to acknowledge that BI differs from existing, welfare-style social programmes and highlights the divide as between those who insist upon “incentives” used coercively to promote job seeking and those who support the “freedom to choose” as incentive enough for anyone.
5. It’s not utopia or bust
Apolitical wisely concludes that, if supporters of a BI succeed, “…they will establish the principle that you can simply give people money and trust them to use it in a way beneficial to themselves and, indirectly, to society.” This is a sentiment long-shared by those who advocate for BI and wonderfully demonstrates that this sentiment is central to personal freedom and the creation of an empowered population. For Apolitical and the rest of us only time will tell.
Earlier in the year, Namibia experienced setbacks in its hopes of introducing a national basic income. Instead, anti-poverty actions have been concentrated on job creation and the establishment of a food bank .
This was a particular disappointment, given that President Hage Geingob had declared basic income grants part of his anti-poverty agenda as recently as December 2015 .
The food bank program was rolled out on June 30, and some activists are now urging that it be supplemented or replaced by a basic income grant.
For instance, at the union’s July workshop for leaders and shop stewards, members of the Metal Allied Namibian Workers’ Union identified a basic income grant as one of several a policy urgently needed in Namibia .
As another example, Veparura Kandirikirira, the secretary general of the National Unity Democratic Organisation (NUDO) Party Youth League, was reported in The Namibian as saying that “the food bank programme does not provide much of a solution to sustain the lives of the poor as they may choose to sell the food aid from government” and that, instead of a food bank, a basic income grant should be adopted to combat poverty in Namibia. According to the report, Kandirikirira “said government should also not have to choose what people eat; instead, they should decide for themselves” .
 Albert Joerimann, “Setback for Basic Income movement in Namibia,” Basic Income News, May 31, 2016.
 Joe Timothy, “NAMIBIA: President unleashes new plan for Basic Income Grant,” Basic Income News, December 19, 2015.
 Ndama Nakashole, “Namibia: First Decent Work and Social Protection Workshop Held,” AllAfrica, July 19, 2016.
 “BIG is answer to poverty – Nudo youth,” The Namibian, July 19, 2016.
Photo Credit Sue Kellerman (2013)
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Eric Walberg is a Canadian journalist who specializes in the Middle East, Central Asia and Russia, and has been writing on East-West relations since the 1980s.
Last May, he published two articles related to basic income, which are available on his website:
1. “Basic Income: Helicopter money“* (May 26)
This article makes an argument for a guaranteed annual income (GAI) in Canada as a way of abolishing poverty. Referencing Evelyn Forget, he suggests a GAI of $18,000: if a Canadian has no other money, the state will issue them a GAI of $18,000 in full; however, the amout of the supplement would taper off with additional earned income, with a “break even” point around $30,000.
“Basic Income – International experience (Brazil, Namibia, Canada, India)” (May 31)
This article reviews the results of basic income trials in Canada (1974-9), Namibia (2008), and India (2011) (and, briefly, Brazil’s cash-transfer program, Bolsa Familia) — noting, for instance, that the trials provide strong counter-evidence to the common concern that, with a basic income, people will stop working or spend their money unwisely.
* While Walberg’s argument for GAI is well worth reading, it’s important to point out that the title of the article is misleading, as is a sentence in the first paragraph.
Two points of clarification:
• The term ‘basic income’ usually refers to unconditional or universal basic income (UBI), which is not the same as GAI. A UBI is not means-tested; for example, the $18,000 subsidy would go to all Canadians, regardless of other income, if it were a UBI.
When Walberg cites a cost of $12 billion, this is the cost of “topping up” the incomes of Canadians to a level high enough to get the unemployed and low-earners out of poverty — not the cost of providing every Canadian with $18,000 per annum.
• Neither ‘basic income’ nor ‘guaranteed annual income’ should be used synonymously with ‘helicopter money’. Helicopter money — the printing of new money to be distributed directly to individuals or households — is one possible way to finance a basic income. It has been supported recently by American investor Bill Gross and the European group Quantitative Easing for the People, among others. However, many supporters of a basic income (of GAI) do not favor the printing of new money; more commonly, in fact, their proposals rest on the redistribution of existing income.